The Mavericks have been clawing their way out of the Western Conference cellar over the last few weeks, led by the league’s best point guard and recent D-League signing Yogi Ferrell. Tonight they face the Denver Nuggets, who currently own the eight-seed the Mavs have been gunning for. Tonight’s game is the third of these two team’s four match-ups this season. So far, the home team has won each time, putting the head-to-head record at 1-1.
The Nuggets (and the eight-seed) are just two games ahead of Dallas... will this game bring the good guys within one? Here are three things to watch.
Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets’ frontcourt
Denver’s starting center Nikola Jokic (not to be confused with back-up Nuggets big man Jusuf Nurkic) has given the Mavericks trouble this season, even when the Mavs blew the Nuggets out back in December. He earned a double-double (27 points and 11 rebounds) in his first outing against the Mavs and very nearly notched a triple-double in his second (27 points, 17 rebounds, and nine assists).
Part of the Mavericks’ recent success relies on line-ups featuring Dirk Nowitzki at center (for more on how and why things have been looking up for Dallas lately, check out Josh’s excellent run down here). There’s a lot to like about Carlisle’s roster shake-ups lately, but it could be incredibly challenging for a team with Dirk at center to defend against a big man like Jokic. It won’t help that they’ll also be contending with the underrated Kenneth Faried, who’s a good shooter and a phenomenal rebounder.
The Mavericks have been playing like the (much) better team lately, but Denver has the sort of athletic young frontcourt talent that can give the Mavericks’ defense trouble even when things are clicking.
Denver’s three-point shooting
Unfortunately, the big men aren’t the only ones who could give the Mavs a hard time. The Nuggets don’t have a lights-out shooter on the team, but several of their wings and guards (Will Barton, Danilo Gallinari, Jameer Nelson) are pretty good from three. Their efforts combined are enough to help the Nuggets slide into the league’s top ten in three-point efficiency at 36.4 percent.
That said, the Mavericks hadn’t made the best D-League discovery since Danny Green last time they saw the Nuggets. We’ve talked a lot about Yogisanity here at MMB, but it really can’t be overstated how different this team looks right now. There are a lot of reasons for that, but Yogi Ferrell’s presence is a huge one.
Of course, he’s only played four games and it’s possible he’ll fall back to Earth over the next few matches. But beyond Ferrell, it’s been incredibly fun to see a Mavs resurgence led by young players who’ve actually seen enough time to develop. The team’s top five* players not named Harrison Barnes are Ferrell, Seth Curry, Dwight Powell, and Salah Mejri. This is what many of us have been asking of Carlisle for a while now, and he’s really delivered over the past month.
*measured by Win Shares, obviously YMMV
How to watch
Tonight’s game starts on the later side, tipping off at 8:00 p.m. Central. You can watch locally on Fox Sports Southwest or via NBA League Pass elsewhere.